Plan every lesson. Prepare sets of letter pairs that begin with vowels. They generally won't be words. Later, you'll mix in letter pairs that begin with consonants. Print up the letter pairs (all lower case) in a large font. Postpone working on letter names. They're not used in reading. You're likely to aim too high: Stick with just a few letters in a few combinations. Hold the vowels constant. Avoid repeating any particular practice sheet for at least 20 days. Invent new practice sheets often. When it's time for 3-letter words, cover up the final letter with a business card until the first two have been spoken. If your child has a reading aptitude near average or better, you could be mostly finished within 90 hours or so. Watch this video clip to see what your child might be able to do after 42 hours of instruction.
What follows is a fairly complete description of what Rails does and how Rails does it. You'll be learning on the job, which is fine. Teachers with more experience are usually forced to use radically inferior reading curricula, so you'll get much better results with your particular child than they would have. Just follow the advice below and return once in awhile to refresh your memory.
If you're doing it yourself, you can get ongoing guidance free.   I've listed your biggest advantages at right →
Plan every lesson. Type in a set of letter pairs that begin with vowels: Most of them won't be words, so your first drill's top line might look like this... it     ic     it     ic     it     ic     it     ic    it On your first day, you might have to read that top line very quickly so he can hear that the two answers alternate in a predictable fashion. Afterwards, let your child stretch the vowels until he can recall the consonant at the end: iiiit, iiip, iiid --so he learns proper sound blending. Most of your letter pairs won't be words. Use lowercase letters exclusively. Each row should be slightly harder than the last... SLIGHTLY. Just randomizing the letter pairs introduced on row one is often an adequate tactic for row two (early on). You can introduce a new letter or two in the third and fourth rows. Essentially, what you're doing is training a neural network. It takes a lot of repetition, and you need clean simple data in the training data set. Spelling exceptions and rare spelling patterns are prohibited. At this stage, even silent E (kite, rite, site) is way too advanced.
Later, add pairs that begin with consonants. This is a good time to introduce your third or fourth short vowel. The letter pairs t-e, n-e, & s-e would be pronounced "teh, neh, & seh" because they will become parts of words like ten, net, & set in more advanced patterns.
You're likely to aim too high: Stick with just a few letters in a few combinations within simple sound patterns that gradually randomize. Throw in an unexpected letter pair once in awhile. Hold the vowels constant for two rows or more unless you're working on vowels. If that's the case, hold the consonants constant as the vowels vary. Kids learn vowels the slowest and most won't be able to alternate between vowels right away. All your drills should get harder as you approach the bottom right corner, gradually harder.
Don't repeat any one practice sheet for at least 20 days, unless the sound pattern you used is truly novel. Invent new practice sheets and sound patterns often. When it's time for 3-letter words, cover up the final letter with a business card until the first two have been spoken. If your child has a reading aptitude that's solidly above average you could be mostly finished within 90 hours or so (about half as fast as I can do it with a refined system).
The statement that "children learn from their mistakes" is oft heard. Unfortunately, most children between the ages of five and seven have very little activity in their prefrontal cortecies. The prefrontal cortex is the most intelligent part of a brain (also the slowest). It's highly analytical and logical, but basically dormant in about... 70%? ‑of children between the ages of five and seven. This is the brain part that learns from mistakes. The underlying neural network memory also learns from mistakes, but‑at this age‑it usually learns how to repeat them because the prefrontal cortex isn't online yet, so it can't modify reflexive memory responses to stimuli. This means every mistake forms counterproductive memory that raises your child's error rate. Any mistakes that carry over into actual story reading will devastate comprehension. A typical mistake might be substitution of a letter name. Because that letter is part of a word, the word remains unrecognized. Because the meaning of the word is lost, usually the meaning of the sentence is obscured as well. You can't avoid all mistakes, but you can come close. Good tactics include:
A letter name is really just an alternate sound that can be associated with a letter. If you associate two sounds with just one letter, your child will have trouble deciding which sound you want at any given moment. Instead of saying "cat," he might say... see-at (C-at), cate (c-Ay-t, or catty (că-Tea). When we tested the last set of kids in December (just before covid19 hit), the kids who didn't work with me made 4-5 times as many letter name errors as the kids who did work with me. Letter name memorization interferes with early reading a lot--and frustrates children. They secretly wish you would just make up your mind about which sound a given letter makes. English spelling is complex enough without adding letter names prematurely. Refer to letters by their sounds: "Draw me two /t/ sounds." "Which sound is /k/?" "What's the second sound of eh?" When asked how to spell cat, say "/k/ /ă/ /t/".
The site Morewords.com will help you find words that are already part of your child's vocabulary, words like it, at, and tea. "Tea" is fairly advanced, containing a silent A and a long E. That's one example of why it's easier to fill your drills with "nonsense" words like ot and ip. Nonsense words are really just common spelling patterns. "Ot" is not a word, but pot, lot, and tot are. If your child can't pronounce "ot" he can't pronounce not, rot, or cot either. Make sure he can pronounce ot. To find 3-letter words ending in o-t on morewords.com, search for "-ot".
Point out words your child probably knows and use them in sentences so he recognizes them. Once in a while, you can define words your child might find interesting. You can use the internet to instantly look up images of nearly any noun. Kids love this. Always remember: You're not teaching words. You're teaching letters and the sounds they make (which is much easier). The average adult vocabulary is 40 to 80 THOUSAND words. You don't want to spend oodles of hours defining them piecemeal. Your child will get most of his vocabulary from conversation and reading for fun, but defining the occasional word is a fun break for both of you.
Capital letters have the same utility as capital numbers‑none at all. That's why we don't have capital numbers. Since all but one of a typical sentence's letters are lower case, you can postpone teaching capitals‑forever. Your child will learn the capitals more or less automatically after he has begun reading.
According to an article in Scientific American (written a long time ago), the average adult has a spoken vocabulary of about 40,000 words and can recognize up to 80,000 words in context. The only child who can memorize the "appearance" of 40 to 80 thousand words without understanding the sounds the letters make or why they have to be in the same order every time is some type of autistic savant. You may have heard of these people. They can memorize phone books. Everybody else is recalling the sounds and blending them together in order from left to right (even if they were taught with Whole Word or Whole Language). In our last two studies, we were able to demonstrate that word memorization, including "sight word" memorization, simply doesn't work. It's a waste of time and creates abnormal memory formations that interfere with reading and persist into adulthood. A child who understands how words are ordinarily spelled knows an exception when he sees one. I'll never forget my first exposure to t-h-e. The teacher said it was pronounced "thuh." I said, "Thuh???" I had never seen a digraph before, so I thought someone had lost his or her mind. It looked like t-hhh-eh.
So-called "sight words" are slightly more likely to contain spelling exceptions. For example, "said" is really just old English and originally rhymed with "maid." Today, we might write it, "He sayed, 'hello.'" About 79% of the words in "Dolch" sight word list DO NOT contain spelling exceptions. I know because I counted all the exceptions. Since only about 13% of ordinary English words contain spelling exceptions, sight words are about twice as likely to contain them. Even so, the vast majority of sight words are spelled perfectly normally. For example, why memorize the sight word "and", when you could simply understand how it's spelled and build on that knowledge to recognize words like land, sand, & hand. According to Morewords.com, there are 1844 words that contain "and." A successful memorizer of the word "and" has learned exactly one word. A person who can rapidly sound out a-n-d, has a head start on 1,843 words.
Yes said is a sight word and yes it "is" a spelling exception:  A well educated child would spell it s-e-d. I prefer to say that s-a-i-d contains a spelling exception. That's because its first and last letters sound exactly like they should. Only the a-i part in the middle is off. This means that a child who is good at reading will notice that the official spelling of said is peculiar and this will make the odd a-i part of said stand out in his memory.
Eventually, your child will reach a special point: He can't yet cope with the variety of spelling patterns seen in the stories he loves, but he understands reading well enough to lean on a word's spelling in order to help him remember what you just said the word was. Now, he can read with you. You say, "The ball rolled" and he says "The... b-ball roll...d" You say, "under the car" and he says "un-der the... care." Keep working with your child until he can read simple sentences smoothly. His comprehension won't be high until his decoding is smooth, fast, and automatic. This frees the prefrontal cortex to listen to the author's message.
Most of your drills will focus on various spelling patterns, but there's one type of drill that's more important than most. I call them re-read drills. Here's an example. The cyan words contain mistakes that you will deliberately "make" so that your child can practice detecting mistakes. When the gray words are read instead of the cyan words, the sentences make sense. The drill is a short simple story. There should be logic mistakes and grammar mistakes. You might write, "The traffic light finally turned black." If you were reading to yourself and you come across a sentence like that, you would re-read it automatically because it doesn't make much sense: There's a logic error. Sure, it's possible they're painting the traffic light black or burning it, but more likely, you just misread the sentence. Here's another one, "Rick saw down on the stump." That's a grammar error, typically caused by misguided attempts at sight word memorization. When you re-read it, it says Rick sat down on the stump.
Early readers make mistakes like this all the time. If they get used to being baffled by words in print, they will never be able to catch their own errors and will never develop high reading comprehension. This one of the biggest failings of traditional reading curriculum. Each word in a sentence is completely different from the word that came before it. The child spends so much time trying to figure out what each successive word means, that he has no brain-power left for listening to what the author is saying. At the end of a simple clear sentence that the teacher understands perfectly, the child has no comprehension whatsoever. If he becomes used to this sad state of affairs, he will never have high comprehension... because he thinks low comprehension is normal. For this reason, making a child read stories before he is ready is a mistake. Start with phonics exercises, not stories.
Wait until your child is almost ready to read on his own. Then use your mistake riddled stories by reading them to your child. Let your child listen for your mistakes and correct you by making that evil buzzing sound you hear on game shows. Kids LOVE this. They'll miss many of the "mistakes" you thought were perfectly obvious, but they'll be developing the habbit of listening for mistakes and re-reading when they're detected. Once your child has buzzed you, you might say, "Oh, did I make a mistake? Let me re-read that." You can ask your child to describe the mistake (as best he can). When you get a false positive, re-read the sentence and explain why it makes sense. When your child misses a mistake, don't point it out. He might catch it the next time you read the story.
One of the crazy things about written English is the letter 'd.' If you have a plastic 'd' on your refrigerator, you'll discover it can be rotated to become a b, a p, or a q. This causes several different types of confusion, but the one that gets really severe is d-b confusion, which can cripple comprehension. To avoid this, teach lowercase d first. There shouldn't be b's anywhere around until your child is finished with all of his short vowels and consonants. When your child is able to consistently decode 4-letter words like, mast, spat, last, humd, snit, raft, skil, & desk, he is ready to understand that the E in like is silent. Then you can introduce 'b' together with the long-vowel-silent-E pattern. For example: bibe, libe, sibe, babe, labe, habe, robe, lobe, tube, rube, cube
Minor d-b confusion may still arise. If it does, do not create a special drill that has d-words mixed together with b-words. That will make the confusion worse. Once a child is reading from left to right consistently, 'b' and 'd' begin to look different and minor d-b confusion begins to subside because b's face downstream and d's face upstream. Until then, you can introduce occasional b's if you color each one red. You can also have dedicated b-drills that contain no d's, but don't start these too early, and make sure the b's are red. The b's introduced with the long-vowel-silent-E pattern should be black.
If you decide to do it yourself, feel free to call me with your questions. You know your child, so you have many advantages that professional teachers do not. Re-read these guidelines often in the beginning. Eventually, I'll have software people can use that will make it a lot easier. By that time, you'll already be finished. Remember that reading aptitudes vary widely. Keep your cool. In Finland, they don't even start teaching reading until a child is seven years old. You may need to postpone instruction while your child's prefrontal cortex matures. If you've read this far, you have probably passed genes to your child that will make it fairly easy to get him or her started. Once your child is reading for fun, I recommend that you continue reading to your child. Read at his or her "listening comprehension level." A child's comprehension of the spoken word is usually much higher than his reading level at any given moment. When you read a complex story to a child, you're storing knowledge of advanced grammar and vocabulary in his brain. Later, when he's trying to read harder material on his own, the words and grammar you banked earlier will help him learn faster. Here's to you and your voyage (clink).